On a local level, there are often long-standing customs and norms where the interventions of older authority figures have led to peaceful, non-violent mediation and arbitration. Particularly in rural Lebanon, a blend of civil law and tribal codes has long been an intrinsic part of the justice system. While these customs are no guarantee for just arbitration, national reconciliation projects could improve their outreach by overcoming their anti-sectarian bias and communicating with existing modes of reconciliation.
Activists acknowledge that reconciliation is a slow process based on the public acceptance of criminal responsibilities and mutual respect for conflicting war memories. Building commemorative monuments, writing national history and teaching history in schools needs positive interaction and cooperation between NGOs (confessional and civil), academics and political leaders. NGOs such as the Institute for Islamic-Christian Studies have targeted religious teachers in an attempt to combat stereotypes about other sects and religions. [see Mohammad Sammak article, p.27]
The most difficult challenge has been how to involve political leaders in the reconciliation process. Many memory activists have criticised the entire political class and prefer to work independently of the ‘sectarian system’. More recently some have seen possibilities and openings: for example, several hearings organised by Memory for the Future, a coalition of intellectuals founded in 2002, have involved former militia fighters who speak from within the logic of violence and sectarianism, rather than outside it like most memory activists do. Such projects achieve a more realistic picture of the reasons people have for remembering the war differently and for continuing to bear grudges against other groups and individuals.
Projects must not dodge hard questions and harsh worldviews if they are to be effective, and there is a basis for such an approach to succeed. Many people within the political establishment support national reconciliation and want to work for it. In 2004 and 2005, as part of the general political upheaval which culminated in the Independence Intifada, a large number of politicians began taking an interest in memory campaigns initiated by The Committee for Kidnapped and Disappeared (formed in 1982) and the Memory for the Future group. Likewise, Umam Documentation and Research, the biggest NGO devoted to memory work, is today partly funded by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture [see Liliane Kfoury article, p.18]. Strong incentives exist to foster reconciliation through memory work. All possible avenues for creative participation between civil society and the Lebanese authorities should be explored.
Memory work needs to build on the experiences garnered from reconciliation conferences, hearings, programmes and publications since the civil war, organised and funded by a large number of Lebanese NGOs as well as a variety of external actors, from USAID and EU programmes, to the International Center for Transitional Justice and Human Rights Watch. International actors could do more to pressure the Lebanese state to take issues of national reconciliation and historical consciousness seriously. It is imperative to create alternative monuments, rituals, spaces and public discourses that can challenge the politicised memory discourses that currently exist and that are reproduced within particular groups. This can be conducive to national reconciliation.
Creating an alternative culture for remembrance in itself is not enough. National and international projects should do more to engage their perceived opponents in the sectarian leadership and milieus, not least in order to gain a better understanding of why so many Lebanese hold widely different views on their national history. This means working directly with political parties and their interest groups.